Cloud firewall explained: what is firewall as a service?

October 21, 2020 | Mark Stone

This blog was written by a third party author

As organizations continue moving away from hosting services and applications with onsite servers, the use of virtual machines and cloud-based security solutions like Firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS) is trending upward. With this shift away from traditional network security solutions, cloud firewall deployments have become the norm for many businesses. 

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about cloud firewalls.

What does “cloud firewall” really mean?

Unlike firewall appliances, which are typically hosted within an organization’s data center or branch office, cloud firewalls are software-based and hosted by a third-party provider. The purpose of a cloud firewall is the same as legacy firewalls: to block malicious traffic and prevent unauthorized access to private networks. Although the functionality is similar, cloud firewalls may be more suitable for modern business requirements because of their scalability and ease of deployment.

Much like a traditional firewall is deployed to protect an organization's internal network,

think of a cloud firewall as a virtual protective wall surrounding applications, infrastructure and platforms in the cloud. In addition, cloud firewalls also protect premises-based assets.

Just because a firewall is a cloud firewall does not necessarily mean that its capabilities are cutting edge and meet the demand of today’s advanced threat landscape. The “cloud” in cloud firewall only means that the firewall is hosted in the cloud.

A firewall’s form factor is not the relevant criteria here, and what’s most important for any firewall is the functionality.

Learn more about different firewall types here.

Are cloud firewalls also next-generation firewalls (NGFW)?

Cloud firewalls (or virtual firewalls, or Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS)) can undoubtedly be a next-generation firewall. However, not all cloud firewalls are NGFWs.

Typically, most cloud firewalls will boast some NGFW capabilities. Remember the key difference: NGFW is all about the firewall’s capabilities, whereas the “cloud” in cloud firewall indicates where the firewall resides.

Network-based firewall service

Fully managed, cloud-based firewall providing continuous inspection and treatment of internet traffic.

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What are the benefits of a cloud firewall service?

One of the key benefits to cloud firewalls is that they typically offer a lower upfront cost since there are no appliances to purchase. In addition, overhead is reduced when the hardware doesn’t have to be hosted in your datacenter.

FWaaS can be managed, configured, and updated by a third-party vendor to ease the management burden for your company. Ongoing maintenance, such as firmware updates, is usually included in these vendor-managed services and are often deployed much faster than when done in house. In addition to the cost and resource benefits, there are a handful of additional cloud firewall benefits that aren’t quite as tangible.

Perhaps the most significant advantage is the scalability and availability factors. With a more straightforward deployment, organizations can easily scale their security solution to support additional locations or higher bandwidth requirements without the complexity or cost of replacing appliances. When bandwidth is upgraded, cloud firewalls adjust automatically for consistency in cases such as mitigating a DDoS attack, for which bandwidth limits wouldn’t be a concern.

When it comes to cybersecurity, availability is one of the three pillars (along with integrity and confidentiality). Cloud firewalls providers, with existing infrastructure, have redundancy built-in. This helps ensure a level of resiliency that is difficult to match with onsite firewall solutions. In addition, future updates, patches, and downloads are quickly deployed by the cloud providers.

Further, cloud firewalls can filter traffic from a myriad of sources, whether it’s the internet, between tenants, between virtual networks and machines, and even the virtual data center. By bolstering the security of connections between physical data centers and the cloud, companies are better positioned to migrate to a cloud-based infrastructure.

Does cloud firewall serve public and private cloud?

Cloud firewalls can operate in all cloud configurations: public cloud, private cloud or hybrid cloud. When we talk about cloud firewalls, the typical configuration and solution is deployed in the public cloud and offers very similar functionality as hardware firewalls. However, in hybrid and private cloud deployments, public cloud firewalls provide significant advantages over on-premises devices in terms of scalability, availability and extensibility.

Cloud firewalls and firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS) often mean the same thing and are usually considered public cloud firewalls. Virtual firewalls, on the other hand, can be deployed in the data center or in the cloud.

The ultimate protection for most organizations would be to combine both public and private cloud solutions to provide more flexibility, performance and more cost-effective security.

When looking for the right cloud firewall vendor for your organization, you’ll want to partner with a provider that can offer professional managed services to relieve some of the burden of managing whatever cloud solution you have deployed.

After all, when it comes to protecting your business, its not just a decision about firewalls, its a decision about how firewalls might be deployed to support an organization’s current and future business initiatives.

Mark Stone

About the Author: Mark Stone

Mark Stone is a content and copy writer with over a decade of experience covering technology, business, and cybersecurity. Earlier in his career, he was a cybersecurity analyst in the public sector. He lives in Kelowna, BC with his wife and two black cats.

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